Sports sector’s mixed reaction to pending border changes

Lydia Ko of New Zealand plays her shot from the third tee during the second round of the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida. MICHAEL REAVES/GETTY IMAGES

There’s a mixed mood among the New Zealand elite sports community as athletes and officials continue to digest the major border changes announced by the government.

While news of MIQ-free returns from mid-February were being welcomed by individual athletes, the plan left an air of uncertainty for some events, as well as teams involved in Australian competitions.

One athlete on the positive side of that equation was Tom Walsh.

The shot put star could now ship out for World Indoor and Outdoor Championships, and the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, next year safe in the knowledge he could make an immediate return.

Walsh had been considering moving out of New Zealand in 2022 but the two-time Olympic medallist was pleased that was no longer necessary after changes to border rules.

“That makes it a lot easier for a number of things, right.

“It makes it a lot easier for relationships. It makes it a lot easier for training, coaches and support staff, and all those things that I have here based in New Zealand and are a huge part of why I’m the athlete I am.”

Also smiling was triathlete Hayden Wilde -and not just about what the new border rules meant for his Commonwealth Games preparation.

The bronze medallist from the Tokyo Olympics said he had landed one of 20 MIQ spots allocated to Sport New Zealand in December for sports stars stranded abroad.

Wilde said, after nine failed attempts in the MIQ lottery, he was relieved he would finally be going home to celebrate his Olympic success with his family.

“I’ve been trying for the last four months, so at least we’re moving forward.

“We can take this as a positive and know that we can leave and represent our country but also have the certainty that we can potentially come home.”

Wilde said the border changes were a big boost to his chances of repeating his Tokyo success in Birmingham next year.

“To race well at the Commonwealth Games, I really wanted to come home early … to have a few weeks off and then prepare in the New Zealand summer time.

“It’s great to have that certainty. To know that we can come home and leave home as well, and hopefully bring home another medal for New Zealand.”

But the changes didn’t suit everyone in the sports sector.

Along with the Warriors rugby league side and the Breakers basketballers, the Phoenix footballers had been hoping for some home games in 2022.

Women’s team coach Gemma Lewis was optimistic, but not over-confident her team would get to play in Wellington in their debut A-League season.

“It’s definitely not clear-cut.

“But we feel like with the Government starting to initiate the border control and maybe relaxing slightly and putting in different protocols that we might have a little bit more of an opportunity.”

But New Zealand teams in trans-Tasman leagues, including the new Super Rugby Pacific competition, should be planning for all contingencies, according to Deputy Prime Minister and Sports Minister Grant Robertson.

“I hope that we’ll be able to see a time in the not-too-far-distant future where people can come and go.

“But we’ll only do that when we get the advice that it’s safe, and unfortunately that will limit the ability for sports teams, among other people, to go backwards and forwards across the Tasman.”

The changes also limited certain sporting events.

Tournament director for golf’s New Zealand Open, Michael Glading, said Wednesday’s news was a shattering blow.

“We’d all heard the MIQ system was going to change in the first quarter of next year, so we purposely pushed our tournament back to the back end of March to give us as much chance as possible.

“To now find that date is now the end of April is a bit deflating.”

Glading said an event featuring only New Zealand golfers, or even cancellation, now appeared their only two options.

“On the surface, it looks very much as if we are going to really struggle to get anybody in from overseas unless things do change dramatically.

“You get to a point where you have to make a decision by a certain time, otherwise you can’t put the event on. So, we’re now looking at Plan D, E and F I guess.”

Thankfully for Tom Walsh, plan A was now back on the table.

And while he was joining others in asking for more clarity, Timaru’s three-time world champion said a more relaxed border was undoubtedly good news for his pursuit of more major success.

“[The announcement was] quite positive I thought.

“It means possibly no quarantine but then I started reading and listening again to some of the information and it’s not exactly the clearest.

“I guess the thing that I can take out of it, that it probably will be seven days at home, which is definitely a lot better than 14 days in a hotel or seven days in a hotel.”

Not a solution for everyone, but a step in the right direction for most in New Zealand elite sports community.

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